East Africa as a region trying to integrate is still grappling with non-tariff barriers. These barriers have hampered the development of trade and most recently tourism. Analysts say the five member bloc needs stronger institutions and mechanisms to address challenges that may impede its progress.
In the tourism sector, the usage of the Single Tourist Visa and plans to introduce EAC e-passport are commendable achievements. Indeed there is commitment especially within the private sector to develop tourism sector in the region.
Stakeholders under the East Africa Tourism Platform are trying to market the region as a single product – Destination East Africa. But with the non tariff barriers this is going to be hard.
A document released by East Africa Tourism Platform titled ‘Curb Non-Tariff Barriers To Spur Intra-Regional Tourism within the EAC’ laments how most partner states still have introduced non-tariff barriers that obstruct the growth of tourism.
“Inconsistent immigration procedures have been adopted across many entry and exit points in the region especially with the handling of yellow fever vaccination cards, restrictions requiring travellers to have invitation letters, the need to show-where the travellers will be staying, delayed on-line application procedures, customs inspection and arrival registration forms; subjecting travellers to cumbersome, checks and delays,”
“Additionally, veiled protectionism has reared its ugly head in the form of levies of high exit taxes, foreign exchange control, and restrictions on the use of credit or cash cards. In the face of these impediments, unflagging efforts should be made at all levels, both national and regional, to remove such threats and barriers to intra-regional travel and tourism.
It is disheartening to note that despite the importance of tourism as a great foreign exchange earner, regional governments are yet to pay as much attention to facilitating travel as they do to in developing other industries. To facilitate intraregional tourism, it is imperative that governmental bodies throughout the region recognize that their role is to facilitate travel and not to stand in its way.
Regional governments need to address non-tariff barriers and ease access to their respective jurisdictions from across the border to the extent that this does not compromise security. Where this is not possible, then there is need for an agreement that does not add unnecessary time and financial costs.” The document explained.
East Africa Tourism Platform further explains the ‘these restrictions fly in the face of the campaign to market the East African Community (EAC) as a single tourist destination. Under the campaign, tourists are urged to apply for a single visa that allows them to visit Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda without border restrictions.
The regional tourism platform that bring together private sector players elaborates the if EAC countries are to benefit from this initiative, they need to resolve some of these non-tariff barriers to the free movement of people and tourists across their borders.
“The best solution would be for regional policy makers to deliberate on non-tariff barriers and ensure they are finally eliminated. With a little goodwill from partner states, these barriers will be easily and amicably resolved and a solution found to satisfy and benefit respective countries and the region. Tourism plays an important role in the economies of the EAC partner states and, considering the competition they face from destinations such as South Africa, they would be better off fighting in the same corner than against each other.